Islands can be loved to death

The Best and Worst Islands : A Scorecard

(This story appeared first in the Seattle Post Intelligencer on November 17, 2007)

It’s no secret that people love islands.

But sometimes, we can love them to death. When tourism overkill strikes, the end result is not such a nice place.

National Geographic Traveler and its National Geographic Center for Sustainable Destinations conducted the fourth annual Destination Scorecard survey, aided by George Washington University. A panel of 522 experts in sustainable tourism and destination stewardship donated time to review conditions in 111 selected islands and archipelagos. Whidbey Island wasn’t in the mix, but Washington’s San Juan Islands and British Columbia’s Salt Spring Island were included in the survey.

Guide to the Scores

0-25: Catastrophic: all criteria very negative, outlook grim.

26-49: In serious trouble.

50-65: In moderate trouble: all criteria medium-negative or a mix of negatives and positives.

66-85: Minor difficulties.

86-95: Authentic, unspoiled, and likely to remain so.

96-100: Enhanced.

Judges’ Comments

San Juan Islands, Washington State, Score: 70

“This pleasant archipelago retains its attraction due to limited access through a network of well-managed ferries. With a growing number of second homes and slight gentrification, the islands still retain a good balance between environment and infrastructure.”

“No big hotels, no big crowds, but the open spaces are under attack by nonnative invasive plants. And whale watching in the waters off the islands is completely out of hand, with the native orca pods chased and harassed all day every day from May to October by tour boats.”

“Varied experiences on the different islands. Good kayaking, whale watching, hiking, bicycling. However, islands could be more ‘bike friendly’ with dedicated bike lanes needed.”

“Over 100 islands, each with its own character and attributes. Perhaps the worst is overdevelopment of Roche Harbor to appeal to rich baby boomers and the imposition of urban values into a beautiful setting. However, buildout settlements on other islands have remained sustainable and tasteful.”

Salt Spring Island, Gulf Islands, British Columbia Score: 69

“Salt Spring Island offers tourism options, mainly centered on contemporary fine arts/music culture, creative organic cuisine, agritourism, and marine ecotourism, largely driven by strong-minded locals who scrutinize every new possibility with intense National Geographic criteria eyeglasses!”

“The population is becoming increasingly artsy, retired, wealthy second homes, etc. Skyrocketing housing prices.”

“Suffering from being too popular. Major conflict between locals who want tourism and those who moved there to hide from humanity.”

“As long as the Islands Trust exercises strong land-use policies, the potential exists for Salt Spring to remain as a delightful and memorable destination.”